Broken Dreams

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From left to right, Tony Schik as Lennie and Josh Peyton as George

George and Lennie have a simple dream.  They just want a piece of land of their own where they can grow some vegetables, tend some rabbits, and live life as they please.  On the cusp of realizing that dream, the ground suddenly threatens to fall away from under their feet with the most cataclysmic reality.  This is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men currently running at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Reviewing this show is a true pleasure as it is not only the best show I’ve seen this season, but also the best local show I’ve seen in the past few years.

I’m truly grateful that Steinbeck chose to translate his classic novel to the stage himself as I do not think any writer would have been able to properly communicate his ideas and themes as well as he could.  What made Steinbeck’s writing so beautiful is that he was able to present an incredible amount of themes and power, but kept it wrapped up in a relatively simple story.  At its heart, this is a story of friendship and loyalty, but Steinbeck also introduces themes of greed, poverty, infidelity, hope, frustration, love, and racism.  And he presents these ideas through ordinary, realistic conversation.

A great work needs great direction to properly relay the story to an audience and Ablan Roblin’s direction is a piece of art.  Rarely have I seen such skillful handling of a dialogue driven play.  Roblin keeps the words energized and moving.  He never allows the scenes to become static as he inserts just enough movement and animation to keep them lively and real.  His understanding of the turns and twists of the plot allows him to make sequoias bloom from the tiniest moments.  And the coaching of his cast is championship caliber.  Each actor is fully aware of her or his function and utterly confident in his or her abilities.  This allows them to come together as a whole and create something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

There isn’t a weak link in this cast, but some exceptional performances from the supporting cast include Donte Plunkett as a broken, acerbic ranch hand forced to live separately from his working class brethren due to the color of his skin; Mallory Vallier as the lonely, man-hungry wife of The Boss’ son, Curley; and Nick Zadina as the tough, but level headed bunkhouse leader, Slim.

Dennis Collins has a powerful turn as the one handed ranch hand, Candy.  Collins well essays the loneliness and feelings of uselessness of this character.  He’s an older man approaching the end of his days, barely able to work due to his missing appendage, and friendless except for his beloved hound.  The utter joy Collins displays through his eyes and inflection when he is allowed the opportunity to share in George and Lennie’s dream is a true treat for the audience.

Josh Peyton’s handling of George is so effortless that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting.  One can actually feel his bond of brotherhood with Lennie and all that entails.  Yes, you can see George’s love for Lennie as he cares for him and stands up for him, but you can also really feel his frustration at the difficulties of caring for Lennie.  Peyton’s emotional choices with his words and body language are always spot on and he is especially compelling when he has to make a crucial decision about Lennie in the play’s final moments.

I was leveled by Tony Schik’s portrayal of Lennie.  It is truly a revelatory performance that’s certain to place him in the running for the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda-McGuire Award.  He is so utterly believable as the simple, childlike man whose intelligence and maturity is incapable of handling his incredible strength.  Shick brilliantly communicates Lennie’s essence with a slack jaw, veiled eyes, constant excited giggling, and a delivery that shows that Lennie really has to think about what he wants to say before he can say it.  You can’t help but love this big kid, yet ache at the fact that his immaturity and unpredictability make him hard to handle, though life is certainly never dull with him around.

Jim Othuse has crafted another winner with his bunkhouse set.  It is exactly what it needs to be:  simple, dilapidated, but functional for working men.  His lights enhance the moments from darkening at climactic moments to the night sky in the opening scene.  Darin Kuehler’s props add to the effect with his bunk beds and authentic bales of hay.  John Gibilisco’s sounds strongly support the work with sounds of ranch hands talking and the clink of horseshoe playing.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are perfect from the elegant dress of Curley’s Wife to the rich clothing of The Boss to the gear of the ranch hands and the poor, common clothing of George and Lennie.  An original score by Timothy Vallier helps to sweep the audience into this world.

John Steinbeck was truly one of America’s greatest writers and this is one of his finest works.  It may not be the feel good play of the year, but it could very well be the best play of the year.

Of Mice and Men plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 17.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $40 ($24 for students) and can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or by calling the box office at 402-553-0800.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language and a few scenes of violence.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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American Classic on Tap for OCP

Of Mice and Men Opens Feb 15 at Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, NEOf Mice and Men will open Friday, Feb 15 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Feb 15-Mar 17, 2019.  Performances wil be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression, George–an intelligent, but uneducated man–and Lennie–a large man with the mind of a child–dream of making enough money to buy their own land.  When a crime is accidentally committed, the two men are faced with a moral predicament in one of the most powerful and devastating stories of the 20th century.

Directed by Ablan Roblin, the play based on the critically acclaimed classic American novel by John Steinbeck explores the ultimate meaning of friendship.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $40 for adults and $24 for students ticket prices varying by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  Of Mice and Men

Written By:  John Steinbeck

Directed By:  Ablan Roblin

Cast

Josh Peyton as George

Tony Schik as Lennie

Dennis Collins as Candy

Nick Zadina as Slim

Mike Leamen as Carlson

Steve Catron as Curley

Mallory Vallier as Curley’s Wife

Donte Plunkett as Crooks

Randy Vest as The Boss

Benjamin Battafarano as Whit

 

Upcoming Auditions at OCP

OMAHA COMMUNITY PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
“OF MICE AND MEN” AUDITIONS

Monday, November 26  and Tuesday, November 27 @ 6:00 pm

Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132
*Please enter through the West “Stage Door” entrance

Rehearsals Begin: January 6, 2019
Performance Dates: February 15 – March 17, 2019 in the Howard Drew Theatre
The Howard Drew Theatre performs Thursdays through Saturdays with a 7:30 p.m. curtain and Sundays with a 2:00 p.m. curtain, with the exception of Of Mice and Men which will also perform on Wednesday evenings at 7:30 p.m.

Based on the critically-acclaimed classic American novel by John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men explores the ultimate meaning of friendship.  Migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression, George, an intelligent but uneducated man, and Lennie, a large man with the mind of a child, dream of making enough money to buy their own land.  When a crime is accidentally committed, the two men are faced with a moral predicament in one of the most powerful and devastating stories of the 20th century.
Directed by Ablan Roblin

 

OMAHA COMMUNITY PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
“ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS” AUDITIONS

Saturday December 8 at 9:00 A.M.
Off site. Location to be announced.

Monday December 10 at 6:30 P.M.
Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132
*Please enter through the West “Stage Door” entrance

Rehearsals Begin: February 24, 2019
Performance Dates: April 12 – May 5, 2019 in the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre
The Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays with a 7:30 p.m. curtain and Sundays with a 2:00 p.m. curtain.

When out-of-work Francis becomes employed by two men, he goes to great lengths to serve both employees without them finding out about each other. But soon, cases of mistaken identity and the introduction of several unusual characters begin to thwart his plan. How long will Francis be able to keep them apart? The result is a side-splitting farce packed with physical comedy and hilarious hijinks, set in 1960s England. One Man, Two Guvnors premiered in London in 2011 with James Cordon as Francis, a role he reprised in the original Broadway production in 2012, winning the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.
The play features 11 songs played live by a skiffle band (think “rockabilly”) that will most likely be made up by members of the ensemble. Different songs will feature different cast members. Not everyone will have a solo, but every cast member will sing in a group at some point. The ability to play a musical instrument is an advantage but not a necessity (specifically – piano, drums, guitar, and bass).
Directed by Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek

Character breakdown can be found here.

 

Actors please be prepared with the following:
* You will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and schedules available to complete the form.
* A recent photo to attach to your audition form. Please note, the photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned.
* Should you not have a photo, one will be taken at the time of the audition, but the check in process may take longer.
* You will be asked to read scenes from the script.
* You may be asked to participate in movement exercises, if the play requires movement.  Please be dressed comfortably.

Additional Information:
* Productions run from four to six weeks.
* Each actor in a production receives four complimentary tickets for the first weekend of the show.
* OCP offers two auditions dates for every production. You only need to attend ONE of the audition dates to be considered for the production.

For additional information on auditions, please email bcarodine@omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-4890 ext 110.

Omaha Community Playhouse is committed to diverse, inclusive casting.

Cursed Are the Meek

It’s a story of friendship and the American dream.  George and Lennie are itinerant workers hoping to save enough of a stake to get a small piece of land to build a small house, plant a vegetable garden, have some pigs, and build some pens for chickens and rabbits.  On the cusp of achieving that dream, a tragedy threatens to end it once and for all.  This is the story of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Steinbeck’s novel is one of the great classics of American literature touching on numerous themes such as the class system, hope, dreams, perseverance, self-pity, and frustration.  The theatrical world benefited from Steinbeck’s decision to translate the novel into a play as only his unique skill was capable of bringing these themes to life with powerful dialogue and subtle foreshadowing.  The play is indicative of its time due to its talky nature, but Steinbeck’s talents make each monologue a gripper from beginning to end.

In the 20 years I’ve been involved with theatre, this play ranks within the top 5 that I’ve reviewed.  I give hearty congratulations to Brandon McShaffrey and his cast and crew for their sensational work with this show.

McShaffrey’s direction is an awe-inspiring piece of work.  He has probed every tiny nuance of the script and brought it to glorious life through the work of his cast who execute each moment with the precision of a finely tuned military squadron.  Each member of the cast has such presence and stays involved in the action of the play with pieces of business that ring true to their characters.  Even more impressive is the fact that the cast had only 10 days of rehearsal and somehow have polish and pizzazz that surpass shows with a proper rehearsal period.

Every performer shines at one point or another, but particular notice goes out to Tyler Breeding who breathes ugly life into Curly, the violent, bullying son of the ranch owner whose itch to pick a fight at the drop of a hat only increases with his jealous possessiveness of his new wife.  Josh Bernaski, as the tough, but kindly team leader, Slim.  Bernaski does need to slow down his delivery, though his excellent diction still kept him understandable.  Shonn McCloud as Crooks, the bitter, black ranch hand who hides a decent heart.  McCloud’s fine sense of timing led to some of the show’s more humorous moments.

In supporting roles, Dan Coons soars as Candy, the one handed ranch hand looking for some hope.  Coons’ body language show a man who leads a sad and lonely existence, yet is given one last chance for redemption when he is allowed to share in George and Lennie’s dream.  Lisa Egan Woods nails all the right notes as Curly’s unnamed floozy of a wife as she attempts to flirt and seduce the ranch hands to assuage her own loneliness.

Ultimately, this show succeeds or fails based on the work of the actors who play George and Lennie.  McShaffrey’s casting of Kyle Downing and Jeremy Proulx helped to make this show a rousing success.

Downing’s George is the proverbial everyman.  He has nothing more than a dream for a place of his own and a safe haven for Lennie and he pursues it relentlessly.  Downing’s animation is a thing of beauty and he changes emotional beats on the turn of a dime.  Whether he’s gleefully sharing his story of their future home, charmingly ranting about being saddled with Lennie, or steadfastly trying to get Lennie to remember items crucial to their survival, Downing is simply a joy to watch.  His final scene with Lennie bursts with an emotional power guaranteed to haunt you.

Proulx’s talent is a rare one, indeed.  His command of body language and gestures is unlike any I’ve ever seen in his interpretation of the gentle giant.  Lennie is actually the play’s most tragic character.  A childlike innocent who lacks the wisdom to handle his fearsomely strong body.  Proulx well communicates Lennie’s simpleness with subtle hand gestures and a spot on delivery.  Although Proulx’s delivery hits the marks on intention, he does need to be careful not to sacrifice diction for sound as his speech was mushy at several points.  As tragic as Lennie is, he also is the play’s most inspiring character as his good nature brings out the better qualities in those around him.

The play’s technical aspects were also bits of mastery.  Tricia Hobbs’ bunkhouse set has a poignant fragility about it.  Shon Causer’s lighting design was some of the best I’ve seen as the lights subtly and surely showed the passage of time from day to night and back again.  Jacob Kaufman’s sounds immensely aid in the immersion of the audience into the play.

This is what theatre is all about.  Of Mice and Men both entertains and educates.  It may make you rethink a thing or two about your own life and that is the power of a good drama that needs to be seen by one and all.

Of Mice and Men plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 17.  Showtimes are 2pm on June 25, 28, 29 and July 3, 9, 12, 17 and 7:30pm on July 2, 8, and 16.  Tickets cost $27 for the main floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language and a few scenes of violence.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.